December 5-14, 2024


Team Roping World Champs Overcome Challenging NFR to Win Second Straight Gold Buckle

Jun 29, 2023

Team Roping World Champs Overcome Challenging NFR to Win Second Straight Gold Buckle

By Brian Hurlburt

Kaleb Driggers (header) and Junior Nogueira (heeler) broke the PRCA Team Roping earnings record in 2022 enroute to their second PRCA Team Roping World Championship in a row. They earned $340,708.23 each, which bested the former record set by Clay Smith and Paul Eaves of $289,921.

The two have hit their strides in more ways than one. Through June 27, they were third and fourth in the world standings, respectively. In the most recent event, they won the average at the Reno Rodeo. 

But even with the success of last year and into this year, whenever Nogueira and Driggers think back to the 2022 Gold Buckle, they get a lump in their throats because things were not easy for them during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge®.

Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira during the final round of the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Click Thompson

“We had a great year and a record-breaking year, but the NFR was definitely challenging for us,” Driggers said. “It makes me happy to know that we stayed hooked in, stayed with our game plan, and persevered to win the world title.”

The challenge that Driggers refers to began in round 3, when Nogueira roped a leg. He did the same in round 4 and then the two recorded a no-time in round 5. Things were spiraling quickly, and Nogueira put most of the blame on himself.

“I kind of hurt my shoulder before the NFR, but I didn’t want to say anything and make it a big story,” Nogueira said. “I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I couldn’t perform as well as I was used to performing. I was little behind the whole time, plus I had some tough luck and missed some throws. It was a difficult time for me–and us.” 

Driggers never lost faith in his partner, and continued to be a positive influence as Nogueira went through the tough times. The bond the two have on and off the dirt was a huge help.

Junior Nogueira in action on the first night of the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

“We are the same age, our morals align and we are out for the same goal,” Driggers said. “We are also in the same place in our lives and we have been through so much together. We know there are ups and downs, but all the time that we have spent together helps us stay focused and together no matter what. Junior is a special person to me.”

Earning a trip to the NFR is always the duo’s main goal. Once there, the energy in Vegas and the Thomas & Mack Center takes over. Nogueira has always appreciated the knowledge of the NFR fans.

“The Thomas & Mack Center is just different,” Nogueira said. “The energy and atmosphere is incredible, and it seems like the whole world is watching on television. Everybody who is there at the NFR, they understand rodeo and they follow rodeo. At some of the random rodeos during the season, there are a lot of people who go only to hang out with friends and family, so they may not be huge rodeo fans. I would say 95 percent of people at the NFR, they know exactly what is going on and they are the true fans of the sport. That makes the energy and the atmosphere even more special.”

Kaleb Driggers getting the job done during the second round of the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

Driggers also feels the Vegas vibe once he rolls into the city and enters the arena.

“Every time I go there, it gives me chill bumps because as a kid I watched it on TV and dreamt of being there,” Driggers said. “Now I have been there 10 times and I never take it for granted. It might not feel exactly like the first time, but it is always similar because it is the pinnacle of our sport. When we walk out of that secluded tunnel, there are 18,000 people on top of us. It is exciting and a feeling that we don’t get anywhere else.”

Soon the long summer will turn to fall and the NFR will be here before we know it. Most likely, Driggers and Nogueira will be backing in with world title number three in sight.

“It is a good question when you ask, ‘What it will take to win number three?’” Driggers said. “We can’t take anything for granted because it all started over again on Jan. 1. We have to lay it all on the line and give it everything we’ve got. Nothing is going to be given to us just because we are two-time champions. We are going to have to earn it.”